Riding the IT wave
New technologies are streamlining operations at San Bernardino County’s Sheriff’s Department (SBCSD). “It used to be that we didn’t have computers in the cars, but now every vehicle has a mobile data computer and broadband access through the county’s wide-area network,” says Ted Byerly, Systems Development Team Leader at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. “As our younger deputies increasingly use technology in their personal lives, they expect to have the same level of information access in their vehicles.”
The department has replaced its on-premises hardware and software with cloud-based Office 365 ProPlus and provided patrol officers with rugged tablet PCs. SBCSD expects that these deployments will save the department about $500,000 over the next three years.
The sheriff’s 50-person IT staff used to drive from one office to another to provide hands-on IT support, Byerly says. The department’s IT staff, for example, used to install software patches and updates to individual machines. With cloud-based system, staffers install updates automatically and electronically from the IT unit’s headquarters. “With that adjustment, our current employees can concentrate on providing needed services to the end-user, to make the end-user’s life better,” he adds.
In addition, the county instituted a paperless report-writing system. In the past, a deputy would write a report, print it out at the station, and four or more copies would be manually distributed to the district attorney, the courts, the prosecutor, and the public defender’s office. “Our county covers more than 20,000 square miles. It can take four hours to go from one end to the other. So if a deputy was filing a case in Barstow and your office was in San Bernardino, it could be a two-hour drive. So they would drive two hours to turn in a case file. If the file got rejected, they’d have to drive back with the reports, destroy the originals, make adjustments to the report, print them out by hand, and deliver the new reports,” Byerly explains.
Now, everything from creating the report to sending it to the district attorney’s office is done over the Internet. “What’s even better is that now the two-hour drive time is gone. And now the district attorney is working to integrate the process with the courts, so the DA can send their electronic copies to the courts and the public defender. So the county is going across-the-board in paperless electronic report writing,” Byerly says.
The county developed a custom app to drive the paperless setup. It’s reduced printing and paper expenses and eliminated document delivery travel time and expense for deputies, Byerly adds. It’s possible, he says, that the department’s paperless report-writing system along with document storage will move to the cloud.
Byerly, who has a master’s degree in information technology and worked in patrol for 10 years, says it is inevitable that more law enforcement IT tasks will go to the cloud. “It makes sense, we’ve looked at it and we’ve tested it,” he says. He suggests that government administrators “identify the easiest IT functions to move to the cloud, get their teams familiar with it, get it set up, and then start identifying all the other areas where it makes sense.”
He says administrators need to do a good job of selling the cloud platform internally. “We are just freeing up resources. We are not trying to get rid of work, because most of us are overwhelmed anyway, so it’s really just redistributing work and giving our teams the opportunity to do what you really want them to do—to deliver high-end services to our internal customers.”
The huge expansion of body-worn camera video and police surveillance video is driving increased storage requirements, says Byerly. “I think we are going to offload most of that storage to the cloud. I think the price and scale of trying to manage internal storage of that video, and backing it up, is going to be superseded by the cloud.” He also predicts increased mobility across the board for law officers, as well as expanded access to data.
Byerly explains that the cloud-based setup frees up time for his team. “If you are using Infrastructure as a Service or Software as a Service, you are no longer doing the research, going out to bid, trying to get bids, dealing with the lowest of the three bids and processing the paperwork to buy a server.” Likewise, he notes that every year or two, the management team doesn’t have to remove the old system and install the new server.
“We just pay for the service. That way, we aren’t doing all the back-end stuff that the vendor takes care of by offering the service.” Byerly concludes that through the process, “I think the long-term costs are going to be greatly reduced and free up resources to do things that we want to focus our efforts on.”
Michael Keating (Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor of Government Product News, American City & County’s sister brand.